The Echo Wife: A Review

The Echo Wife by Sarah GaileyEvelyn Caldwell is at the top of her game professionally, at the vanguard of clone research, and the recipient of a prestigious award for her work in clone conditioning.

Which is why it’s even more important that no one know about Evelyn’s personal life falling apart.

Everyone knows about the divorce and her husband’s affair–those are hard to hide. But no one can know that his new wife, Martine, is actually Evelyn’s clone. Made illegally with her award-winning research and technology.

Martine is soft where Evelyn is hard. She’s everything Evelyn swore she’d never let herself become. Still when Evelyn’s good-for-nothing ex-husband turns up dead, Evelyn and Martine find themselves reluctantly working together to cover up the crime in The Echo Wife (2021) by Sarah Gailey.

Find it on Bookshop.

Cloning, in general, can be an unpleasant subject made more so here by Evelyn’s focus area. In an eerily plausible world with more advanced cloning technology, she has made a name for herself in clone research and conditioning–the work of making sure a clone is exactly like its source subject including all relevant blemishes and injuries. Therefore it’s no surprise that Evelyn’s first person narration is clinical and filled with sharp edges.

While Gailey continue to demonstrates their remarkable range as an author, The Echo Wife is often too detached as it veers toward deeply unsettling. Much like Evelyn’s public presentation, every piece of this book is deliberately presented to frame the story in a certain light. Whether than can ever be a favorable light for our protagonist remains to be seen.

The Echo Wife is a fast-paced, often chilling blend of science fiction and suspense. Recommended for readers who prefer their protagonists to be morally ambiguous.

Possible Pairings: My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite, Our Life in the Forest by Marie Darrieussecq, The Survival of Molly Southborne by Tade Thompson

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Tales From the Hinterland: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Tales From the Hinterland by Melissa AlbertTales From the Hinterland (2021) by Melissa Albert presents Althea Proserpine’s  notorious collection of dark and twisted short stories that form the backbone of the world building in both The Hazel Wood and its sequel The Night Country. For the first time the stories that protagonists Alice and Ellery encounter in Albert’s previous novels are presented in their entirety.

Readers familiar with Albert’s oeuvre will recognize many of the tales and characters here notably including Alice, Ilsa, and Hansa. Albert aptly channels classic fairy tale sensibilities into eerie and brutal tales that would have the Brothers Grimm reaching for an extra candle at night. Centering female characters in each story Albert explores the facets of girl-and-womanhood in a world dominated and usually shaped by men.

Standouts in the collection include “The House Under the Stairwell,” where sisterhood wins the day as Isobel seeks help from the Wicked Wife before she is trapped in a deadly betrothal; “The Clockwork Bride,” a richly told story where a girl hungry for enchantment carelessly promises her first daughter to a sinister toymaker who, when he tries to claim his prize, instead finds a girl who wishes only to belong to herself; and “Death and the Woodwife,” where a princess uses her wits and her mother’s unusual gifts to outwit Death and his heir.

With stories fueled by feminist rage, the frustration of being underestimated, and the insatiable longing to experience more Tales From the Hinterland is a collection that is both timely and universal.

You can also check out my interview with Melissa to hear more about this book and the companion novels.

Possible Pairings: The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo, The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty, Caster by Elsie Chapman, Into the Crooked Place by Alexandra Christo, The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow, Sender Unknown by Sallie Lowenstein, Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, Realm of Ruins by Hannah West, The Light Between Worlds by Laura E. Weymouth

*A more condensed version of this review appeared as a review in an issue of School Library Journal*

Lore: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“It’s not always the truth that survives, but the stories we wish to believe. The legends lie. They smooth over imperfections to tell a good tale, or to instruct us how we should behave, or to assign glory to victors and shame those who falter.”

Lore by Alexandra BrackenEvery seven years Zeus punishes nine Greek gods by forcing them into the Agon. Warrior families have hunted the gods in every Agon for generations hoping to absorb their powers and receive blessings in the intervening years.

Lore always knew she was destined for greatness and glory in the Agon, meant to restore her family house’s honor. That was before Lore’s own disastrous mistake brought about the death of her entire family.

Now, seven years later, Lore thinks she’s finally made it out and started a new life. But the return of her childhood friend Castor and the goddess Athena appearing at Lore’s door prove she never escaped the brutality of the Agon. Not really.

After years of hiding and trying to forget, Lore will have to come out of the shadows and embrace her complicated past if she wants to live long enough to have a future in Lore (2020) by Alexandra Bracken.

Find it on Bookshop.

Lore is a standalone fantasy novel. Although the world building is heavily intertwined with Greeky mythology, the story itself includes enough information to make it approachable to those unfamiliar with the inspiration material. The book also includes a character list broken down by the family houses and lines. Lore and Castor are white although several members of the Agon families (including dark skinned Van and Iro) are from other racial backgrounds.

Lore is a fierce and often reluctant narrator. Most of her past is colored by trauma and regret over events that slowly unfold in flashbacks for readers as the novel builds to its explosive final act. Despite her desire to isolate herself and avoid further losses, Lore is surrounded by a strong group of friends and allies who add drama and levity to this potentially grim story. Lore’s best friend Miles Yoon–an outsider to the world of the Agon–is an especially fun addition to the cast and a steadfast friend to Lore.

Set over the course the week-long Agon this fast-paced story plays out against the backdrop of New York City as Lore and her allies search for a way to end the Agon forever. Lore’s efforts to find a place for herself as a young woman, both away from the Agon and within it, in a world all too quick to dismiss her is both timely and empowering.

Lore seamlessly blends elements from Greek mythology with a modern fantasy setting for a perfectly paced story of survival and fighting for what we deserve.

Possible Pairings: Antigoddess by Kendare Blake, Starling by Lesley Livingston, The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan, Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young

Lightbringer: A Review

Lightbringer by Claire LegrandAfter years spent trying to deny her powers and her dark urges to push them to their limits, Queen Rielle is done pretending. Rejected by the man she loves, feared by the country she swore to protect, Rielle instead turns to Corien–the dark fallen angel who has always promised her glory and destruction in the same breath.

A thousand years in the future Eliana is still trying to understand how her plan to stop Rielle before she breaks the world went so very wrong. Separated from her brother, betrayed by the man she thought she could love, Eliana arrives at the Empire’s capital broken. But that doesn’t stop Corien from trying to break her more and unearth the secrets of how he can use Eliana to reunite with Rielle in the past.

The world has always been quick to tell Rielle and Eliana what kind of woman they should be. With the fate of the world balancing on a knife’s edge, both Rielle and Eliana will have to take their fates–and the fate of all of Avitas–into their own hands in Lightbringer (2020) by Claire Legrand.

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Lightbringer is the final book in Legrand’s Empirium trilogy which begins with Furyborn and Kingsbane. Legrand has said before that this is the series of her heart, the reason she began writing, and a massive undertaking. Seeing the end of it, particularly this ending, is bittersweet to say the least.

Lightbringer picks up shortly after the conclusion of Kingsbane although most of the plot relies on world building and plot previously established in the first book in the trilogy.

Epigraphs, shifting points of view, and the story’s two timelines play out on an epic scale as this novel builds to conclusion that feels both explosive and inevitable.

Like the other books in this series, Lightbringer is a long one (nearly 600 pages as a hardcover). Unfortunately in this volume many of the editorial choices shift focus away from characterization and plot in favor of repeated scenes of torture. Corien employs mental and physical violence against Eliana to understand how she could travel to the past. Meanwhile Rielle’s storyline is steeped in blood and gore as Rielle learns more about Corien’s experiments to build monsters to fight his war and vessels for incorporeal angels.

While this book has all of the pieces for a powerful conclusion, they never quite gel as well as they need to relative to the build up. Corien’s motivations are never entirely clear, Ludivine’s purpose in the story remains murky. Worse than all that, a lot of character viewpoints are relegated to epigraphs in favor of cutting down the book length. This choice highlights how badly Ilmaire needed to be a main character in this trilogy while I am still wondering why I had to read though countless chapters from Navi, Tal, or Jessamyn–all of whom feel largely tangential to the entire series.

Both the torture and violence throughout Lightbringer became repetitive enough that as a reader I began to feel inured to it. Instead of furthering the story, the torture took page time away from allowing the overarching narrative to unfold leaving much of that to happen in the final 150 pages of the book.

Lightbringer is a natural if not always satisfying conclusion to a truly distinct series. This installment redeemed a lot of the flaws in Kingsbane or at least made them understandable, particularly in regards to Rielle’s motivations. While the conclusion here feels inevitable, it remains bittersweet and leaves many of the characters and the entire world of Avitas forever changed. It’s clear that there are more stories to be told in Avitas and I hope Legrand will eventually be able to share them with readers.

Lightbringer ends strong remaining inclusive, sexy, and very smart making it a good read-a-like and antidote for Game of Thrones or other problematic fantasies written by white men for white men.

Possible Pairings: Realm Breaker by Victoria Aveyard, Frostblood by Elly Blake, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, The Never Tilting World by Rin Chupeco, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, Reign the Earth by A. C. Gaughen, Forest of Souls by Lori M. Lee, Angel Mage by Garth Nix, Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi, Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch, The Midnight Lie by Marie Rutkoski, Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor, Realm of Ruins by Hannah West, The Girl King by Mimi Yu

Poisoned: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Poisoned by Jennifer DonnellyYou think you know this tale, but you only know what you’ve been told. You may have heard about the girl named Sophie with lips the color of ripe cherries, skin as soft as new-fallen snow, and hair as dark as midnight. You may have heard about her step-mother and the huntsman.

That doesn’t mean you know the real villain of this tale or anything that happened after the huntsman cut out Sophie’s heart.

In a world where power means safety and, for a young girl destined to rule, there is no greater danger than mercy, Sophie will soon learn that surviving–much like hiding–isn’t enough if she wants to reclaim her kingdom in Poisoned (2020) by Jennifer Donnelly.

Find it on Bookshop.

Poisoned is a feminist retelling of the fairy tale of Snow White that is every bit as bloody and gory as the original version transcribed by the Brothers Grimm. Although the story is stepped in violence from the very first chapter, the narrative itself often reads younger hewing closer to middle grade in tone.

Eerie, fast-paced chapters and an unconventional choice in both narrator and antagonist make this story unexpected even as Donnelly stays true to her source material. Sophie is an admirable heroine struggling to reconcile her ruthless upbringing with the kindness she has managed to nurture in her heart.

Poisoned is an ideal choice for anyone who prefers the classic fairy tales to modern, more sanitized versions–a fast-paced story that is both engaging and fierce.

Possible Pairings: Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao, Stain by A. G. Howard, The Traitor’s Game by Jennifer A. Nielsen, Stealing Snow by Danielle Paige, Everland by Wendy Spinale, Hunted by Meagan Spooner, Kingdom of Ash and Briars by Hannah West

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Skyhunter: A Review

Skyhunter by Marie LuThe country of Mara is fighting a losing war against the Karensa Federation and its superior technology harnessed from the Early Ones–a fallen civilization readers will readily recognize in our present one.

Mara was supposed to be a safe haven for Talin and her mother. Instead refugees are kept outside the city walls and Talin’s status as an elite Striker can’t make some see her as anything more than a “Basean rat” who Marans look down on for little more than her skin color and the shape of her eyes.

As a Striker on the warfront Talin fights Ghosts–humans who have been horrifically re-engineered by the Federation to become monsters intent only on killing. When Talin saves a mysterious prisoner of war she may have also found the key to beating the Federation–but first she has to decide if the prisoner is a potential weapon or an ally in Skyhunter (2020) by Marie Lu.

Find it on Bookshop.

This post-apocalyptic, sci-fi adventure is a visceral exploration of the emotional and physical costs of war. Poison gas scarred Talin’s vocal chords leaving her unable to speak as much from the trauma as the injury; she instead communicates with the sign language used by Strikers.

Talin’s narration is caustic as questions of allegiance and loyalty move the plot forward with Talin and her friends struggling to save a country that offered Talin refuge while withholding common decency–a dichotomy she again has to struggle with while deciding if the enemy prisoner she has rescued is someone to be saved or something to be exploited.

At the cliffhanger end of Skyhunter Mara’s fate is far from secure leaving readers to wait for answers in the conclusion to this duology. Suspense and high-action fights make this plot-driven story both fast-paced and brutal.

Possible Pairings: The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray, Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien, War Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi, The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, Scythe by Neal Shusterman, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in an issue of School Library Journal*

The Midnight Lie: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“We had been taught not to want more than we had. I realized that wanting is a kind of power even if you don’t get what you want. Wanting illuminates everything you need, and how the world has failed you.”

“Wanting something doesn’t always mean it is owed to you.”

The Midnight Lie by Marie RutkoskiNirrim’s life in Herath is a prolonged exercise in survival. She is used to having little. She is used to keeping secrets. She has Raven who is almost like a mother. She has friends. She has the knowledge that she helps people even if it is dangerous.

It is the way it has always been. It has always been enough. Until the day Nirrim makes a terrible mistake. Arrested and jailed, Nirrim could be charged any tithe the authorities choose–her hair, her blood, something much harder to part with.

In prison Nirrim encounters Sid, a mysterious thief with a brash manner and numerous secrets. Speaking with Sid across the dark prison, Nirrim begins to wonder if things really do have to stay the way they are or if, perhaps, they can be changed.

As Nirrim and Sid search for answers about the secrets of the High Kith and Herath itself, Nirrim will have to decide if doing more than surviving is worth the risk–and the cost in The Midnight Lie (2020) by Marie Rutkoski.

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The Midnight Lie is the first book in a duology. It is set in the same world as Rutkoski’s Winner’s Curse trilogy.

As the title suggests, this book is full of lies both that Nirrim tells to other characters (and even readers) as well as the lies she tells herself to reconcile the privation and struggles she has endured to survive. After years of wanting nothing, because wanting is dangerous, Sid blows Nirrim’s small world apart and forces Nirrim to confront her wants and desires for the first time.

Lyrical, dreamlike prose lends a fairytale sensibility to this otherwise grim tale as both Nirrim and Sid face increasingly risky stakes in their search for answers. As an outsider with wealth and an air of mystery, Sid operates with a certain level of freedom and safety–things Nirrim has never even dreamed of–which lead to thoughtful discussions of privilege and power dynamics between the two characters. Sid’s gender identity and presentation therein also add another layer to the story.

The chemistry between Nirrim and Sid is palpable–especially in flirty dialog that adds needed levity to this story. The final act will leave readers with more questions than answers as secrets are revealed and decisions are made for better or worse.

The Midnight Lie is a meditative exploration of the power of memory and desire as well as presentation. Fans of this tense, sexy story will be eager to see what comes next in the conclusion to this series.

Possible Pairings: Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust, Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst, The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow, Ever Cursed by Corey Ann Haydu, For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig, Forest of Souls by Lori M. Lee, Furyborn by Claire Legrand, Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien, Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

When We Vanished: A Review

When We Vanished by Alanna PetersonAndi Lin and her mother are doing everything they can to keep anyone from finding out that her father’s new job is actually participating in a clinical trial at the food corporation Nutrexo.

After Andi hears executives whispering about a dangerous research study at a company party, she worries it might be the same study her dad is involved with–especially since she hasn’t heard from him in over a week. When Andi asks her neighbor Cyrus Mirzapour to help, they wind up in over their heads when a nonviolent protest ends with a bombing and both of them being held captive alongside Cyrus’s older brother, Naveed and younger sister, Roya.

Trapped and desperate to discover the truth and save themselves, Andi and Cyrus find themselves at the center of a conspiracy with consequences that are hard to imagine–and closer to home than either of them realize in When We Vanished (2020) by Alanna Peterson.

Find it on Bookshop.

When We Vanished is Peterson’s debut novel and the start of her Call of the Crow quartet. The book is published by Peterson’s newly created publishing company Rootcity Press which, as their website states, “operates on a not-for-profit model, and donates a portion of all proceeds to grassroots-based organizations focused on racial justice and food equity”

As such, this eco-thriller works to raise awareness about the dangers of fast/processed foods and genetically modified foods some of which can be seen on the book’s companion site Nutrexo Truth.

Unfortunately in sharing these timely messages Peterson’s novel highlights graphic scenes of animal cruelty with “EcoCows” kept in unsanitary and inhumane conditions at Nutrexo and scenes of torture when Naveed is sprayed with a noxious pesticide as part of the villain’s continued experiments leaving him with lasting nerve damage.

While these scenes viscerally showcase the dangers of modifying foods, particularly the increased spread of antibiotic resistant infections, the violence that will stay with readers far longer than the message.

When We Vanished is an unflinching eco-thriller best suited to readers comfortable with gore and grit.

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in an issue of School Library Journal*

Spindle and Dagger: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Spindle and Dagger by J. Anderson CoatsWales, 1109: When Elen’s home was raided by a warband three years ago her younger sister died in the ensuing fires. Her older sister was cut down just short of killing the warband’s leader, Owain ap Cadwgan. Despite the violence and her own sexual assault, Elen survived, healing Owain ap Cadwgan’s wounds and weaving a tale of protection.

She tells all who will listen that Owain ap Cadwgan cannot be killed–not by blade, blow, or poison–so long as Saint Elen protects him, so long as he keeps her namesake by his side.

None of what she tells them is true.

Balanced on a knife’s edge and haunted by echoes of the raid that killed her family, Elen knows one false step, one accident could leave Owain dead and render her own life forfeit.

When Owain abducts Nest, the wife of a Norman lord, and her children, war soon follows. As her lies begin to unravel, Elen dares to imagine a different life but first she will have to determine where her loyalties lie in Spindle and Dagger (2020) by J. Anderson Coats.

Find it on Bookshop.

Elen’s first person narration is frank and immediately engrossing, drawing readers into the precarious world she has created for herself. With violence and danger everywhere, Elen is forced to be as calculating and as ruthless as the warband that is both her greatest protection and her greatest danger.

High action and battles contrast sharply with the choices Elen is forced to make to ensure her own survival. Coats’ evocative prose and themes of agency and feminism add nuance and depth to this otherwise fast-paced story.

Spindle and Dagger is brutal, bloody, and carefully researched historical fiction. Recommended for readers looking for fierce heroines and history with all the gory details.

Possible Pairings: Damsel by Elana K. Arnold, The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green, Sweet Black Waves by Kristina Perez, Kingdom of Ash and Briars by Hannah West, The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

One Dark Throne: A Review

One Dark Throne by Kendare BlakeTriplets Katherine, Mirabella, and Arsinoe are in the thick of their Ascension Year, the time when all three have to fight until only one is left alive to claim the title of queen and rule Fennbirn Island.

After the disastrous events of the Quickening, Katherine is stronger than ever–far from the sickly, weak Poisoner everyone expected at the start of the year. But what really happened on top of the Breccia Domain? And will it be enough to help her get both the crown and revenge?

Arsinoe never expected to survive the Ascension Year, not as a Naturalist with no powers to speak of and no familiar. That was before Arsinoe steeped herself in low magic and understood the secret of her true power. But will one secret be enough to change her fate?

Mirabella is arguably still the strongest sister. The temple supports her, her Elemental powers give her control over all elements. She could beat her sisters and claim the crown. But she’s no longer sure that is the future she wants.

Once again it all comes down to three sisters and, most importantly, one crown in One Dark Throne (2017) by Kendare Blake.

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One Dark Throne is the second book in Blake’s Three Dark Crowns series which begins with Three Dark Crowns. The book follows sisters Katharine, Mirabella, and Arsinoe in close third person narration with additional chapters focusing on those closest to them.

Blake continues to expand the world of Fennbirn Island as the fight for the crown escalates. The expected in-fighting, betrayals, and suspense make One Dark Throne a page turner despite its length.

The fast pace is an interesting contrast to a closer focus on the sisters’ motivations as they all struggle to make it through the Ascension Year. While Arsinoe and Mirabella are drawn together, reluctant to fight their sisters, Katherine is set further apart after her return from the Breccia Domain. This incident also highlights the pointed difference between the triplets’ upbringing where Arsinoe and Mirabella had the advantage and support of actual friends and family growing up while Katharine had poison.

One Dark Throne is an intense, action-packed installment. Higher stakes, bigger consequences, and more twists make this book a must read for fans of the series.

Possible Pairings: Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi, The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco, Rule by Ellen Goodlett, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix, Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte, A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, The Girl King by Mimi Yu